In a statement released today, the Taliban confirms that its representatives met with a team of American negotiators in Doha on Oct 12.
The Americans’ stated goal for the nascent talks is to have the Taliban reach a political settlement with the Afghan government. However, the Taliban recently rejected Afghanistan’s elections, calling for attacks to disrupt them. And the Taliban has consistently rejected President Ashraf Ghani’s government as illegitimate.
The group does not mention the current Afghan government in its message today. Nor does it say that Ghani had any representatives at the talks.
Instead, the jihadists again refer to themselves as representatives of the Taliban’s “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” — the regime they seek to resurrect across Afghanistan.
The Taliban lists members of its “negotiation team” from “the Political Office of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” as “the respected” Al Haj Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanikzai (the “head” of the office), Mawlawi Abdul Salam Hanafi (the “deputy” of the political office) and other members, including Shahabuddin Delawar, Qari Deen Muhammad Hanif, Al Haj Muhammad Zahid Ahmadzai and Muhammad Sohail Shaheen.
These men met with a US delegation led by Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad, who was recently appointed as the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation. According to the State Department, Khalilzad is visiting Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia as part of an effort “to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.”
In August, Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada blasted President Ashraf Ghani and his government.
Akhundzada did bless “direct dialogue” with the Americans, so long as the US accepts the “ground realities of Afghanistan” and deals with the “core issue,” meaning the inevitability of Taliban rule. He stressed that the talks would be focused on bringing an “end” to the “occupation of Afghanistan and nothing more.” [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Taliban leader demands US withdraw from Afghanistan, blasts government as ‘corrupt regime’.]
The Taliban employs similar themes in its message today, focusing on the presence of American and “foreign forces” in Afghanistan.
The organization says that the Oct. 12 meeting in Doha was “a discussion about ending occupation and working towards finding a peaceful resolution to the Afghan conflict.”
“The representatives of the Islamic Emirate identified [the] presence of foreign forces as the greatest obstacle obstructing true peace and solving problems, adding that Afghanistan is an Islamic country and has its own Islamic values and culture,” the Taliban’s statement continues. “Keeping that in mind, efforts must be made towards a true and intra-Afghan solution. At the end both sides agreed to continue holding meetings in the future.”
The Political Office of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan
The Doha office was opened in June 2013, after the Obama administration signed off on the move as part of a gambit to jumpstart previous attempts at negotiations. The opening of the Taliban’s political office added to tensions with the Afghan government at the time. The jihadists were not supposed to advertise themselves as the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” in Doha, but they did just that.
The IEA is the name of the Taliban’s authoritarian regime, which ruled over Afghanistan prior to the US-led invasion in Oct. 2001. The Taliban has consistently referred to itself as the IEA in the years since, as the group hopes to resurrect its regime throughout much, if not all, of the country.
On opening day in June 2013, the Taliban unfurled a sign that read the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” This offended the Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai, as it seemingly legitimized the Taliban’s government. The US had promised that the Taliban wouldn’t refer to itself in such a manner at the Doha office. The Americans also wanted the Taliban to read a statement renouncing al Qaeda and international terrorism at the time. No such statement was read in June 2013, or in the years since then.
In its new statement confirming the talks in Doha, the Taliban again referred to its presence as the “Political Office of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” — the same name it wasn’t supposed to use more than five years ago. There is nothing in the Taliban’s message today, or in any other statement by the group, implying a separation from al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda continues to back the Taliban-led insurgency. Al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri argues that the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will be the “nucleus” of a new, global Islamic caliphate. Zawahiri has pledged his fealty to Akhundzada.
Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), which was established in Sept. 2014, continues to embed its fighters within the Taliban-led insurgency. AQIS says that one of its principal missions is to resurrect the IEA. [For more, see FDD’s Long War Journal report: Al Qaeda’s alliance with the Taliban ‘remains firm,’ UN says.]